Consider the following:
- Take a Kansas team that was embarrassed just a week ago and wants (maybe needs) to make a statement.
- Put them on national TV against a ranked conference opponent.
- Bring in Dick Vitale and ESPN’s College Game Day crew.
All those conditions came together in Allen Field House to create a heavyweight championship fight-type atmosphere, boosting the Kansas Jayhawks to their best game of the year: a 90-65 pounding of the 13th-rated Texas Longhorns.
This game was just what Jayhawks needed after a particularly long week in which a number of KU fans and media, both local and national, threw them under the bus. Kansas head coach Bill Self got his first win against Texas and was very pleased with his team’s performance.
“We defended very well, we rebounded the ball well, we executed very well, whether they were playing man or zone, we got the shots that we wanted,” Self said, “but the big thing for us is, when you share the ball and play with great energy, good things are going to happen.”
And good things did indeed happen. In bunches.
Kansas got off to a solid start, steadily building a first half lead. With 6:28 left in the first half, Texas’ Kenny Taylor hit a jump shot to get Texas within five, 29-24.
However, the Jayhawks finished the half on a 14-4 run to take a 43-28 lead into the locker room. The run would extend nearly three minutes into the second half, and by that time, it was 22-6, and KU had a 51-30 lead that would never get closer than 15 the rest of the way.
KU’s defense led the way. The Jayhawk defense shut Texas down on 37% shooting, including 17% from behind the three-point arc, and forced Texas into 20 turnovers against just five assists.
"They played two big guys most of the time, so we thought that we would try to trap the post,” Self explained. “We got more out of that than probably they did. We got some turnovers out of that. We thought if we trapped the ball screen we could keep them out of the lane. I thought we were active with our hands and we did a great job of trapping down on the big guys."
“We came out and set the tone early,” All-American Wayne Simien said. “They came in as the top rebounding team in the conference and the top three-point shooting team in the conference. We isolated both of those. I think this was probably the best game that we have played all year in all areas. Definitely the best defensive game we’ve played all year. Everyone was on the same page. It was definitely a collective effort – not just just one-through-five but seven, maybe eight.”
Guard Mike Lee credited the defense with not only dictating a slower tempo for the high-scoring Horns but allowing Kansas to play more up-tempo and put points on the scoreboard.
“The points wouldn’t have come if we didn’t play good defense. We made Texas have a lot of long possessions, and they got uncomfortable, so we were able to get out and run,” Lee said. “I haven’t had this much fun in the Field House all season.”
Backcourt mate Aaron Miles agreed. “We were able to run because we rebounded the ball fairly well. We were able to outlet and get some fast-break points. We caused them to turn the ball over and get some steals and we were able to create some fast break opportunities.”
“We knew Texas – they’ve got really good players, but they’re a team that really relies on running sets, so we really wanted to take away different options they had on sets and turn shooters into drivers and make their big men make decisions out of double teams,” Keith Langford said.
For a team that had struggled lately, they Jayhawks seemed pleased that all the pieces came together Saturday night.
“We put together two great halves. Offensively, we shared the ball and we executed our plays. Defensively, we played great team defense, and that allowed us to get some fast break opportunities,” agreed guard Aaron Miles.
“We rebounded well tonight. We battled the number one rebounding team in the Big 12 evenly on the boards. We shot well, we defended well. Everyone came in and contributed positively. You’d have to say it was out most complete game so far,” said Lee.
Just as impressive as KU?s defense, though, was the way the Jayhawks valued the basketball. Guard Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and J.R. Giddens combined for 16 assists while committing only two turnovers.
“We all continue to get better. Everyone’s getting better,” Langford said. “J.R. (Giddens) had five assists tonight and no turnovers. We rebounded the ball real well, and everyone did what they could do.”
"It’s about time (that KU won big),” Langford continued. “We've had games like Vermont, Nebraska, and South Carolina – a lot of games we’ve had where we’ve played teams to the last few possessions in our own building, and with that kind of fan support, (the fans) deserve a game like that. For the fans who stuck with us and are really behind us and haven’t gone AWOL on us, that was all for them.
All in all, it seemed like this past Saturday was as good as the previous Villanova Saturday was lousy. Coach Bill Self seemed to agree.
“Today couldn’t have been scripted much better for Kansas. With (ESPN’s) Game Day here and that exposure, this did a lot for our program from an exposure standpoint. Playing well was definitely the most important thing, and it was the icing on the cake.”
- With the Missouri Tigers coming to Lawrence like a punctured Liberian oil tanker limping into port, attention quickly turned to the Border War game Monday night. But the general consensus was, throw MU’s struggles out the window.
“They were struggling last year when they came here. I remember them playing great,” recalled Self. “That was anyone’s game – a one-possession game – with four minutes left. They’ll play hard. We just have to make sure they don’t get off to a good start.”
When told that Kansas State had beaten MU earlier in the evening, Aaron Miles disregarded it: “That doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t care what kind of season Missouri’s having. Anytime these two teams play, it’s going to be a great game. We’ve got to refocus and prepare.”
- Wayne Simien's 27 points pushed him past Eric Chenowith and JoJo White and into 23rd position on the all-time scoring list with 1,295 points. I only bring this up because it may be the only time in you will ever see Chenowith’s name in the same sentence with JoJo’s.